When Are We Truly Ever Happy?

The happiest people I’ve known are also the ones who I’ve watched selflessly serve others.

My Grandma and my wife are two people in my life who exemplify this. They are people pleasers. Now, there are good and bad people pleasers.

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The bad ones want something out of you. But both these ladies are simply happiest when they are making others happy. They just do it to do it. Why?

Jesus, who is the perfect human image of God, fully pleases God, and it delights Jesus to do it, as only one perfect Being can please another. It’s part of the perpetually pleasing back and forth of the members of the Trinity.

As humans, we are made in the image of God, so we have some sense of it, too. That’s why when we please other image bearers, it just makes us happy.

You can only find happiness in either the true image or the image bearer.  You can’t find it in yourself or in an inanimate object, because its something that has to be reflected back at you by another Being.

  • Happy in the True Image: It’s a not-so-vicious circle. We live by God’s good- are happy in it- so we do more of God’s good- and are even happier. And since God is most pleased with us when we love and obey Him, so we are pleased and content, too.
  • And Happy in the Image Bearer: what brings happiness in others, bring happiness in us. And who doesn’t like being around happy people? So when we please others- love your neighbor style- they are happy, and so are we.
So we are designed to do good things. And the degree to which we are able to do those good things- we’re happy when we do it, and less happy when we don’t.

Cold Affections

Micah exclaimed, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Micah 7:18)

David, the famous adulterer, said the same thing: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Ps 32:5).

You’re a Christian so you think you’re OK. Maybe your not “as bad” as David. So you’ve stopped bringing your sin to God. Stuffing your sins in the closet rather than dealing with them has a lot of practical consequences.

One of them is that Jesus becomes less and less an object of our desire and delight. As Christians, when we pass on the forgiveness and restoration offered by Christ, our desire and delight in Him waxes cold.

And, as Octavius Winslow wrote:

If there is coldness in the affections, if the mind grows earthly, carnal, and selfish; dark and gloomy shadows will gather round the character and the glory of God.

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Where there is but little dealing with the atoning blood, leaning upon the righteousness, drawing from the fullness, and bearing daily the cross of Christ, the love of a believer waxes cold.

And you’ll never suspect it. You’ll never see it coming. You’ll look just as holy outwardly- but have a lack of joy inwardly.

You’ll do all the same things you always do: go to church, your Life Group, serve occasionally- but there will be a lack of joy in any of it.

  • Do you lack joy?
  • Has gathering with God’s people and listening to His Word become a boring chore?
  • Would you rather take a pass on worship (or at least skip the first few songs)?

Our view of Jesus is affected by the state of our affections towards him.  Winslow said that we can judge the depth of a person’s Christianity, by the reply to the question:

“‘What think you of Christ?’ Is he lived to, or is he lived upon? Is his name your delight, his cross your boast, his work your resting place?” 

Or is he just a decision you made long ago?

Benchmark Disconnect

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Why is there sometimes a disconnect between our situation and our happiness? We’ve got “the job,” the kids are getting straight A’s, we had a great family vacation. But we’re still not happy. So its onto the sports car, 401K and beach house. If we achieve it, why do we still feel blasé?

True happiness is not achieved by meeting a life benchmark. Because God has connected our happiness to Himself.

The grace of God’s love is the spring-head from which all other graces flow:

  • joy at work,
  • in parenting,
  • relationships and anything else that’s important to us.

It’s only when we do these things in the context of Him that we will feel fulfilled.

If you’ve never given your life to Christ, if you haven’t taken Him up on his offer to reconnect you to God, you’ll just keep chasing what’s next. Because we’re designed to be connected to God.

Unfulfilling=disconnect.

If you are Christian, you can get stuck chasing what’s next, too.  And it’s because you’ve made your benchmarks the same as everyone else’s: perfect parenting, big promotion, fat 401K, and lake house with a boat out back.

Unfulfilling=disconnect.

Or instead, your benchmarks are based on being good. But in benchmark obedience, we obey, but our reaction time is sluggish, its not as complete as it used to be, and our attitude is a little off.

Unfulfilling=disconnect.

For the Christian, in both cases, we’ve reverted back to benchmarks to gain acceptance, rather than knowing we’ve already been accepted.

And when that spring of grace seems to dry up, it sends sickly and sluggish waters through the spiritual system, clogging your spiritual life.

Sure, you’re connected to God by Jesus, but its rabbit ears instead of FIOS. You feel something is missing.

Only in remembering the grace by which Christ saves us can the channels of grace to your heart be unclogged.

Connection reestablished… via the gospel.

Gospel Rescue

If you’re losing sleep at night, the false gospel is why.lightstock_78868_medium_blake

In Galatians, the apostle Paul describes how the gospel is actually designed to “rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:3).

But a false gospel will throw you into confusion (1:7). It will cause you to be disturbed, troubled, and will take away your peace.

The gospel that saves us from this present evil age saves us from having to figure it all out, and rely on on ourselves, and society’s false promise of “doing whatever you want.” God has given us his way, and it leads to freedom. And true freedom is not a response to your own sense of lack of worth. Because we can’t even live up to our own demands.

And when you throw in with the issues of the day, wherever it is you land on the scale will still not be far enough for anyone, because people on either side of an issue- which is everyone else besides you, will always want you to go further.

Conversely, your worth isn’t in routines, religion, or even law following. The evil age will always say you can do it, so pat yourself on the back. But you can never be good enough apart from Christ- out of the sight of Jesus.

The true gospel is is a thing of rest and peace, while the false gospel will keep you up at night.

Out of Focus

All at once, the law shows us God’s holiness and our own sin. And it doesn’t just reveal sin, it stirs it up.

Now, let’s be clear, the law doesn’t cause sin. Sin is already there. At best, its buried in a shallow grave where it can easily claw its way out. But the law brings to the surface what we find hard to see. It shows what a Holy God requires. And it shows me that I’m really bad at it.

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. Romans 3:20

But the law not only reveals sin, it stirs it up in us, too. The law actually antagonizes the sin. It aggravates it. Draws it out of us like an Epsom salt bath.

The law is holy and just, but sin works its way in when we hear it. It actually makes us want to sin. Think about it. What happens when someone tells you that you can’t so something? Naturally, you want to run right out and do it. Try telling a toddler (or teen) what they can’t do and see what happens. Then look in the mirror. Because every human is hard wired with authority issues.

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The law tells us what to do- our hearts rebel at the thought of someone in authority over us, who knows better than we do what’s best for us- and sin has its way.

The answer- adjust your focus.

Focus on the law alone and you’ll fail. And even if you are a little successful, the tiniest voice will still whisper, “good job.” That’s works righteousness, i.e. sin.

So apart from Christ, any good work starts us down the road to earning it. And that doubles down on our sin. For then, even when we do good, we are doing bad.

Law out of focus is law done out of the sight of Christ.

You can only properly approach the law through Christ, in whom we can and want to do all things as we remember what he has done for us.

You can never do law out of view of Christ. You must always hold the law in one hand and Christ in the other.

(un)Thankfulness

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Oftentimes, we’re thankful toward God generally: like when we marvel at things like his goodness or his majesty- or creation.

But scripture also tells us to be thankful specifically:

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thess 5:18

So yes, in all of it, good times and bad. But its easy to say “Yay God!” when you get the big promotion- but when I can’t pay the bills- Yay God? Or- when that relationship is over- yay? I’m so lonely, but thanks!

Life is hard- but we make it harder. By stopping short.

Because that verse ends- “in Christ Jesus.” Because thankfulness “in Christ” should be insulating us from the ups and downs of life.

So when the good news comes- I’m even more thankful- because I know that I don’t deserve it. It’s only Jesus who has made me righteous. Anything after that is icing on the cake.

And when the bad news comes? I’m even thankful then, because I remember that my worth isn’t decreased; God still loves me. And I’m even thankful he didn’t give me what I really wanted- because he knew that the company would be closing its doors right after I got hired anyway.

So, “in Christ”- in all circumstances- becomes this relief.

You can trust that if we knew what he knew- we wouldn’t want it.

But did you know, that Jesus is thankful for you? Jesus is thankful that God revealed Himself- to us- through Him- and we believed. (Matt. 11:25-26)

We are the apple of his eye. Jesus was so thankful for us that he suffered horrible circumstances so we wouldn’t have to. He didn’t get what he wanted, that the cup would pass from Him, because he wanted you more…

Being more worried about the circumstances of life rather than what those circumstances mean “in Christ”- says that your circumstances are more important than Christ and the gospel principles that go with him, like mercy and grace.

Gospel principles that have been applied to us and that we can then turn around and apply in any circumstance. That’s unthankfulness.

An Un-hypocritical Love

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Law starts with love. Because how did Jesus say we are to do the law? By loving God and neighbor as ourselves.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:9-10

“Love must be sincere…” And then Paul continues in the chapter with all these things we should be doing: hating evil, clinging to good, being joyful, patient, blessing those who curse us, etc.

And not just love, but sincere love. If we’re focused on the list, box checking, refrigerator list Christianity, even though they are all things you should be doing: you are practicing hospitality or sharing with those in need…there’s a danger- we may have a secret ulterior motive.

One of our motivations is the hope that we’ll be loved back.

So, in that case, you’re really doing it for yourself. It’s self-love.

  • What can I get out of it?
  • Will people like me more?
  • Will God love me more?

Self love is not sincere love. Sincere means without hypocrisy. And if we’re not sincere, we’re hypocrites. Self love is hypocrisy.

We’re not really doing it because we love others, we’re doing it because we love ourselves.

Check out how we learn to do it the right way, in love, here: